Tourism law vital

Updated: 2015-10-26 08:38

(HK Edition)

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Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said on Sunday the SAR government's efforts to streamline the tourism trade have been met with resistance from the travel industry, most notably over the establishment of a body to oversee the healthy development of tourism in Hong Kong.

His remarks follow last week's brutal assault on a mainland visitor who died of heart failure after being allegedly bashed up by several men posing as fellow tourists. The tragedy is yet another example of failure to prevent wayward tour operators from exploiting the city's friendliness toward businesses at the expense of the consumer. In this case, the victim paid the ultimate price.

Tourism is one of the pillars of the local economy but there's no specific law or designated government department at present to regulate business practices in the industry. The Tourism Board merely acts as a consultant and promoter with no authority whatsoever to handle disagreements or disputes between tourists and service providers.

The situation can be seen as a mockery with regard to Hong Kong's reputation as a society that observes the rule of law. Although there are indications that the owner of the jewelry store, where the victim and other tourists were forced to shop as part of "low-cost" package deals, colluded with the travel agency on the mainland, it's obvious the tragedy would have been prevented had there been a law prohibiting these so-called "zero-fee" package tours that include "forced shopping" as part of the deal.

As Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen pointed out, the practice of "forced shopping" for visitors joining "zero-fee" tours to Hong Kong is not in line with the SAR's cosmopolitan status as an advanced and civilized city. However, he said if tourists agree to the terms, there's little the SAR government can do under existing regulations as it can only be seen as a kind of market behavior.

His comments once again underline the need for a tourism law or ordinance to effectively deter scammers from running "zero-fee" tours that include forced shopping at their designated stores in Hong Kong. The travel trade, on the other hand, must recognize the reality that self-discipline has proved ineffective too many times in winning public trust. It's time the industry redeemed itself by wholeheartedly embracing the rule of law.

(HK Edition 10/26/2015 page10)